‘I need him alive’: Eastern Iowa advocates, families call for the release of men detained by ICE in Linn County jail over concerns of COVID-19

During a press conference on Wednesday, May 6, Juana Cuyuch Brito shared how her husband and two brothers were detained by immigration officials on March 4. Emily Sidwell from the Iowa City Catholic Worker House was the translator. — video still

Immigrant rights advocates in eastern Iowa are calling for the release of three Guatemalan men who were detained by immigration officials on March 4 in Cedar Rapids and Marion.

During a press conference in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday afternoon, members of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) and the Iowa City Catholic Worker House condemned the raids and asked for Jose Cerillo Cerillo, Juan Daniel Cuyuch Brito and Jacinto Cuyuch Brito to be released due to concerns of COVID-19 exposure.

Advocates are also calling for the Linn County jail to end its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Jose and Jacinto are currently detained in Linn County jail. Juan Daniel was detained and sent to a facility in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Des Moines Register reported on Sunday.

The ACLU of Iowa, along with other legal and advocacy organizations, published a letter on April 16 asking ICE to stop new detentions and release immigrants who are already in custody, especially those with medical conditions.

When ICE raids occurred in Linn County — and across the county — on March 4, cases of COVID-19 had not yet been reported in Iowa. The first cases were confirmed on March 8.

Two months later, on May 7, Iowa has more than 11,000 confirmed cases, including 805 in Linn County. A deputy sheriff assigned to the Linn County jail tested positive for the virus last month and cases have been confirmed in three Iowa prisons.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Iowa hardest inside nursing homes and meatpacking plants,” Katie Wilson from Iowa CCI said during Wednesday’s press conference. “Like those closed-door places, state prisons and county jails are inherently dangerous during a global pandemic and are ticking time bombs for the coronavirus to go off. It is not a question of if but when.”

Juana Cuyuch Brito, who is the wife of Jose and sister to Jacinto and Juan Daniel, shared that her husband has a serious heart condition and has been hospitalized more than once while in custody. Police and immigration officials came to their Cedar Rapids apartment around 7 a.m. on March 4.

“I’d like to ask everyone here that’s supporting me that they help Jose and my brothers get out,” Juana said during the press conference through a translator. “Jose has a heart condition, and we’ve been hearing of an illness that’s going around that if you get it it’s really hard to get rid of, and if Jose gets sick and dies, we would never see each other again.”

Rosa Brito Pastor and her son Pedro sit on their bed in the Iowa City Catholic Worker House. Rosa and Pedro were displaced from Cedar Rapids on March 4 after her husband, Jacinto Cuyuch Brito, was detained. — courtesy of Iowa City Catholic Worker House

The urgency of releasing the men was echoed by Rosa Brito Pastor, who is Jacinto’s wife. Rosa was living in Marion with her son Pedro, husband Jacinto and brother-in-law Juan Daniel. She and Pedro are currently staying at the Iowa City Catholic Worker House.

“I need him alive,” Rosa said about her husband. “I’m very worried right now for him because of the coronavirus. He could be affected by this, and I haven’t seen him since he’s been taken for me.”

As of Thursday, May 7, the jail has 216 inmates, which is slightly more than half of its 401-bed capacity.

The Linn County jail has taken steps in March and in April to reduce its jail population and protect inmates and staff, including providing face masks to inmates. But Jacinto told the Register last month he had not been given personal protective equipment while at the jail and was in an area with eight others.

“All three men are locked up, even though the court system here in Iowa made it abundantly clear that nonviolent, low-level offenders should be released during this pandemic due to the imminent risk of infection, and presumably to clear space in our jails in the event that more dangerous inmates needed to be quarantined,” Supervisor Stacey Walker said at Wednesday’s press conference.

“So at some point, we have to ask ourselves the question: What makes these gentlemen so different from all the other inmates who have already been released?”

Walker met with Juana and Rosa last week and said he “wholeheartedly” supports what Iowa CCI and the Iowa City Catholic Worker House are asking for.

“The ICE raids that are happening and continue to happen are an abomination,” Walker said. “Surely there are better uses for our taxpayer dollars than surveilling hardworking folks in our neighborhood and carrying out traumatic raids on their homes.”

Walker said it’s unclear if the Board of Supervisors can alter the contract Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner has with ICE, since Gardner is an elected official with the primary domain over the jail system. Walker said that the board will be looking into the matter.

Gardner told Iowa’s News Now in an email he does not have the authority to release individuals being held by ICE and does not intend to end the contract with ICE.

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